Fahud Ahmed’s Valentines Interview
Join us for a Valentines Date with Fahud Ahmed, motion design extraordinaire…
Valentine’s Day can get a bit of a bad wrap sometimes; all the red glitter and tacky Valentine’s slogans can be a bit much… But love it or hate it, it is a great excuse to celebrate those around you and spread some extra joy.
As well as being a super talented Motion Designer, Fahud is particularly passionate about organic collaborations that enable the breakdown of boundaries blocking many young, under-represented talent from entering into the creative industries.
Within and beyond his day job, Fahud advocates for and carries out work that highlights the importance diverse and authentic representation, and the need to build awareness/education at a grass-roots level in schools. All with an aim to help diversify and broaden the pipeline of talent entering the creative industries in the future.
“As the saying goes; less talk, more action.” – Fahud Ahmed
FreshMeet: We’d love it if you could tell us a little bit about your journey into this industry to give us some context for this interview!
Fahud: My journey is a story of luck – but it’s the kind of luck you find when you dig deep enough and believe in what you are looking for. I managed to navigate through a very turbulent and unpredictable journey; from an above-average academic student with a love for sport, through a huge life curve-ball in the form of a physical sporting injury. But the struggle rewarded me with a new-found light – the curious world of design.
I followed my gut-instinct and pursued a path in creativity – unknown territory for anyone in my family and social circles. Somehow, I managed to get A-levels in Graphic Design & Media Studies, blagging my way through with a portfolio filled with random Myspace music layouts and photoshop edits, but without a GCSE in Art I still wasn’t qualified enough to apply for a degree in design… The hurdles in place became quite visible to me but it was not the first time I’d had to jump them (both mentally and physically) so I kept going.
Enter Ravensbourne, and the most magical and progressive period of my creative education. A diverse world bringing people from all walks of life to the heart of North Greenwich. An eclectic assortment of creative disciplines and a refreshing and infectious energy that enabled me to fully express my inner-self to its full potential. I finally felt like I’d found a home.
I explored different design options in a Foundation course, and my interest in graphic design evolved into the relatively new space of Motion Design. I’d always envisioned my work to move, transform and tell stories (maybe why I was so indecisive when creating more stationary graphic design). My mind was always ticking about what it could do next, so I took another leap of faith and pursued a career in Motion Design.
During my studies my lecturer nominated me for the bursary internship scheme at Design Bridge, which I won. The Design Bridge bursary pays for the final year of tuition fees and guarantees a job placement after graduation. This was a huge thing when you consider the baggage I carried along the way; as a young 1st generation British Bangladeshi who’d taken a huge risk to follow his gut and challenge the ‘reliable’ path my family wanted me to pursue. For my parents, seeing a global branding agency ‘invest’ in my talent gave them the reassurance to feel less anxious about a path that I myself had always believed I was capable of achieving.
Since graduating and joining Design Bridge as a junior, I have been able to collaborate, diversify my creative education and grow into a more confident and assured Senior Motion Designer. All within the last 5 years. I brought some iconic and global brands to life so they could connect with people in a digital world. And I’m excited for the next step in my journey, taking on the role of Motion Design Director at Bulletproof and continuing to bring brands to life through motion design.
FreshMeet: It’s always a learning curve joining the creative industries and finding out about so many new companies and options that are out there. As a junior designer, which agencies did you have a crush on?
Fahud: I was a huge AKQA and Wieden+Kennedy fan, particularly because I always dreamt of working on Nike campaigns. AKQA also fascinated me for more than just their brilliant future-facing creative work, but the fact a British South Asian man was one of their founders: Ajaz Ahmed. It was the first time I’d seen a role-model that represented me and enabled me to envision myself being part of this industry. I even met Ajaz at a Promax conference where he signed a copy of his book and told me to keep going and push hard for what I believed in. He also added ‘It’s nice to see more brown faces here’, and while he may not even remember this, it was a motivational and inspiring moment for me to do exactly that – to keep going and prove I can make it.
Beyond wanting to learn how to create iconic brands, I was just curious about great ideas that make you go ‘damn, I wish I thought of that’, whether it was design or advertising. That chase for inspiration and general appreciation for all things creative organically led me to discover a huge world of options to put on my vision board. I eventually narrowed it down to ‘branding’ and started researching relentlessly on who was creating award-winning work!
FreshMeet: So much of working as a creative is about working in teams, bouncing thoughts off of one another to reach new ideas. Which artist or designer would you love to collaborate with this year?
Fahud: To be honest with you, I really want to collaborate with creatives outside of the traditional industry. I’d love to work more collaboratively with my mentees and bring my motion minded approach into their projects. I believe they are coming up with fresher and more relevant concepts that aren’t influenced too heavily by industry politics or over-complicated opinions.
To create without limits is a huge luxury, something that isn’t as feasible when working on industry client briefs – let’s face it, it’s true. I’d much rather collaborate outside of work with the creative talent that is still raw andthen push them to think ‘what if?’… then I can add an experienced perspective and help them become more industry ready. In return, they can share more culturally relevant and fresher insights that inspire me to push what I do and the teams I work with. I’m a fond believer in hearing the voices of those less experienced because they still have an authentic voice and fearlessness to challenge the status quo – if you empower them to do so.
FreshMeet: Mentors come in many shapes and sizes, from line-managers to distant inspirations. What do you think makes a good mentor, and of all of the mentors and role models you’ve had in this industry, which one would you like to call out?
Fahud: A good mentor is someone who listens and empowers you to follow your own path, but taps into their own experiences to help nurture and guide you, not lead you. A good mentor is also someone who puts their ego aside and is not ashamed to admit they don’t know the answers, and is willing to help you find them together. A mentor is a friend, who is happy to welcome you into their circle of connections to see which one can be helpful for their mentee. Mentoring is about fuelling the spark in your mentee – so they are empowered to pursue their passions.
I’ve had so many mentors in my career from my lecturer at university, to some seriously senior heads at Design Bridge. When you see all their experience and achievements, you almost feel too starstruck to ask for advice but many of these mentors always kept their doors open to me and put their egos aside to make me feel like an equal.
- My lecturer, Liz Friedman, believed in my tenacity to succeed and guided me in discovering the branding world – the very same person who connected me with Design Bridge and kickstarted my career.
- A father and son friendship I have with the Strategy and Innovation Director at Design Bridge, David Helps. (I literally call him Dad as part of some weird private joke of ours.) He always kept his door open to me to talk and share random thoughts, both creative and personal – he also understood the world I came from culturally.
- I had older brother and sister-like relationships with Design Directors and Creative Directors Jordan Assender, Jim Hare & Chloe Templeman, who would entertain my creative curiosity, embrace my extroverted personality without judgement, but also give me that vital kick up the bum sometimes to make sure I wasn’t slacking. They mentored me in a very human and personable way that enabled me to flourish and pursue my passions.
People can believe in you as a person, but you owe it to yourself to fulfil that potential.
FreshMeet: Can you share a recent graduate, junior or fresh talent that you think will go far in the future?
Fahud: Our recently promoted midweight motion designer, Adam Hingley, was the first junior I ever got to mentor in my team at Design Bridge. An absolute whizz of a motion designer, but a genuinely nice person too. It’s always a joy working with him and bouncing ideas off each other! Especially during lockdown, Adam was relatively new to the scene still and had to adapt as a Junior to remote working. Usually, as a Junior, you can lean on your mentor or seniors around you on projects to guide you and help with time management etc. But we had to instill a lot of trust in Adam and we threw him in at the deep end a little, but he stepped up on every occasion. It really wasn’t easy for him when you consider all aspects of lockdown – so, I really mean this, he made me so proud. For me, his mental resilience as someone so new to the industry, his natural flair for solving problems with motion design and the pride he takes in his work is why I have no doubt he will flourish in his career – a real team player and just general good vibes to be around.
FreshMeet: Are you still in love with what you do? And if so, how have you maintained a healthy relationship with your work?
Fahud: I’m definitely still in love with what I do! Evident in those extra hours behind the scenes you put in to make sure your idea lands the best way possible – especially when no one is watching! But I think I’ve slowly learnt which parts of motion design and branding I do and don’t enjoy. This process has been quite liberating as it enables me to carve a path that is still relatively new. I’d say I’m passionate about the evolving potential in what I do and that excitement is what keeps me going to think of new ideas.
But unlike a lot of creatives, I don’t really create motion design work in my free time. I prefer to take a healthy break from creating in my personal leisure time. What I love to do instead is research and feed my mind with new ideas, insights and stories that in turn help me create more meaningful and relevant design work. Inspiration is everywhere and I love connecting the dots.
FreshMeet: Have you ever burnt out, or fallen out of love with this industry? If so, what brought you back?
Fahud: 100% – the bloody politics, the last minute changes, the late nights, the tough cookies to crack, the imposter syndrome when you compare yourself to others! And definitely when you realise there’s a limit to how many plates you can spin at once! It all gets to you – we are human!
Sometimes you question whether this is what you signed up for or if you’re good enough? But then you realise life isn’t perfect and you won’t always get the perfect brief or the perfect job, or be the ‘best’ at what you do… But what can you do is make it your own and give it your all. That’s the wonder of creativity. There is no right or wrong way, you just find a way. So why not stamp your own style in and own it as much as you can? Once you learn to stop comparing and doubting what you’ve created and accept open constructive criticism, then you just learn to enjoy the process and stop overthinking it. Enjoy the ride and stop thinking about the ‘perfect’ outcome, it doesn’t really exist!
Also, be realistic with yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Ambition is fantastic, but be realistic about the steps you need to make to get there. Don’t overload yourself to the point that the quality then suffers because you’re being stretched too thin.
And when you feel overwhelmed all over again, and trust me you will, just take a break and remind yourself why you do this. I mentioned it before when ‘mentoring’, find your spark and own it. Bring yourself into the project, don’t let the project get inside you.
FreshMeet: And lastly, what message would you give to any new-talent trying to enter the industry on how to approach their dream careers?
Fahud: Be honest to yourself and don’t let anyone sell you a dream. If your gut instinct says no, then it’s either right or you don’t feel passionate enough to pursue it. You need to want to wake up everyday excited about what’s to come, not scared of wasting more of your time.
It’s not about chasing your ‘dream job’, it’s about finding the right environment for you to flourish in. Also, don’t buy into this ‘cultural fit’ nonsense. It’s not about you fitting in somewhere to resemble the existing mould, it’s about what you can bring that’s different, thats unique to you and enhances the experience of all those who will work with you.
Give yourself more credit – you’re grateful for the opportunity, but you’re not there by luck. You worked hard to be there like everyone else did, so enjoy the experience and truly accept you deserve to be there!
Thanks Fahud for taking part in this interview, especially during such a momentous moment as you change companies and become a Motion Design Director! I’m sure your story will resonate a lot with our young audience as they enter the creative industries themselves.